Speak to the Other’s Saliency

Powerful Mind Part 32
Created October 13, 2023

Welcome to this week’s Bill Harvey Blog.
Read Powerful Mind 31

The amount of learning available in each instant of life mostly goes untapped. Looking at life through a variety of observation lenses helps capture more of that nascent learning.

One way of looking at life is that it’s all a big reconnaissance. Looking at it that way defers the feeling of urgency to achieve closure on some solid pro or con position on every little thing.

Every conversation is a potential spike in learning, typically even richer than most other times, though “alone times” can reap the most surprising revelations.

Many of us live lives focused around day jobs in some sort of business or another, sometimes in the public or nonprofit sector or academia or science, but it is still “taking care of business” on a day to day basis. This affords us many conversations, sometimes specifically goal directed, and sometimes off duty.

In our interactions while taking care of business or at other times, often each person brings some hoped-for outcome. Say for example you attend a small group meeting or a one-on-one. The other person probably has one or more things they are trying to achieve and wants your help. You may be in the same position. It may not be obvious from the outset what the other person wants. You may not always be aware of your own expectations or desires, they may be hidden from you, you may not have done your homework.

The networks in the brain we have discussed before include the salience network, which is responsible for prioritizing what to do next, what is most important in the present moment, and which has the key role of switching from the default network to the executive control network, which is an overarching theme of our body of work within what I call psychotechnology, the pragmatic optimization of mental/affective functions.

Saliency as a concept refers to that which stands out in the foreground against the background of everything else.

When you are with someone it is polite and considerate to try to discern what the other person’s saliency network is prioritizing at the moment. For example let’s say it is in a business environment. You may be there for a very special reason of your own of which you are well aware.

The normative way of proceeding in today’s world culture – at least in the west – is to go for the jugular. Take the initiative to make your pitch.

However, you will learn much more and increase your chances of success if you start by helping the other person further the implicit goals of whatever is currently the focal point of their salience network. It’s also kinder, nicer, and – if my theory of the conscious universe is correct – the “force will be with you” if you do it this way.

In order to do this you need to listen and observe carefully, without presuppositions.

You also need to avoid pigeonholing based on your first impressions. “Aha, they want X!” might occur to you but keep an open mind.

Within the conventional bounds of whatever context you are in, of course you are allowed to ask direct questions to find out what the other person is most concerned about.

This next thought is very much about the present-day reality and may not be so important in other eras. Prepare to be shocked because nowadays it’s not uncommon to hear a person say something that is strongly emotionally charged and deeply wedded to some political or anti-group position. If you don’t already know this about the person it could flip a switch inside you that has the effect of feeling that this is not your sort of person. You may start to think about how to depart. Observe those reactions in yourself without ratifying them and let them drift into the past. Continue to be open minded and compassionate.

someone's day-what we see-what we assume

Once it becomes more clear what the other person wants, work on that first, and hold back what you are there to accomplish.

If it’s a group meeting, before putting forth your own agenda, observe carefully to see if you can make out what is salient to each person in the room or zoom.

Work creatively to help the others accomplish their aims. Doing this before putting forth your own needs is a better pragmatic approach in terms of actual achievement of your aims.

Of course, if there is a natural linkage by which your desired ends can serve theirs, without contortions or fakery, then it’s a win/win.

Here are some helpful observational lenses lifted from my book Mind Magic which may facilitate learning during the reconnaissance.

    • If I look at this this situation as a child might, what do I see?
    • Be aware of the emotions radiated by each entity including yourself.
    • How might I turn this to everyone’s advantage?
    • Unstitch yourself from the moment by looking down at the whole scene from the ceiling.
    • Question your own possible biases which may affect what you see.
    • Strip away your own interpretations to get back to the things themselves.
    • “Just the facts, Ma’am.” (Dragnet’s Joe Friday)
    • Remember that words have a physical impact on you, so that you must guard against being influenced by them.
    • Toy with alternate explanations for events. Allow your imagination free reign to propose the most unbelievable such explanations.
    • Look at everything as if seeing it for the first time.
    • Why did I notice that?
    • Why did that happen? What is it trying to tell me?

Love to all,



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